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How does your firm view office workers v remote workers?


Fierce reactions have greeted Stephenson Harwood's offer to staff to work from home 100% of the time for a 20% pay cut.

The arrangement, which seeks to address the preferences of WFH-loving lawyers, was revealed by RollOnFriday last week. ROF's story was picked up by everyone from the Times to the Beeb to Jeremy Vine to NBC, serving as a lightning rod for discussions about the future of office life after two years of remote working. 

Split-week schedules are now so embedded they have acronyms*. However, Stephenson Harwood made a splash with its clear line on totally remote working.

A spokesperson for Stephenson Harwood told ROF this week, "Like many law firms, and other businesses, we have made no secret of the fact that we see value in being back in the office regularly - from the positive impact on workplace culture and teamwork, to the training opportunities it provides. We also recognise the importance of flexibility; that's why we have introduced a hybrid working policy which gives our people the option to work remotely for up to 40% of the time, and salaries remain the same".

"From my perspective, this policy is a total game changer", said a Stephenson Harwood lawyer who applauded the '100home80pay' option. They joined the London firm during the pandemic on a remote basis, and now "I get to live in Bath and work for a City firm" earning more than at their former, regional firm "even after the 20% discount".

"There is also absolutely no suggestion that this set-up will affect my career progression - if that was the case I would never have joined because I would like to progress all the way", they said. "The best bit, though, is that I can be a better dad to my daughter and a better husband to my wife. For context, I work in the PE team and spent the last week working hard to get a transaction over the line but I did not miss a single bath time - neither my daughter’s nor my own!"

Another SH lawyer took the opposite view. "SH is out of touch", they said. "My billable hours have increased while working at home and saving time on a very long commute. I can balance commitments as a parent and often log on in the evening to get the work done".

"It doesn't feel right that there will be a 20% difference in pay for a colleague who is at the same level as me and billing the same amount but who doesn't have the commute or family duties", they continued. "If I decide to commute to the office to secure the full pay it will mean I will be less productive at work (and for the family) and it will cost more to the firm in salary and overheads. Lose Lose". 

"Not just parents", said another commenter, "this will disproportionately affect disabled people". And non-lawyers, said others. It "seems harsh" on business services staff "taking home circa £60k who live outside of London because house prices are out of reach", said one. "If they can work effectively from home, as proven over the last two years, why not allow them to continue to do so without penalising them?"

Mums could also be disproportionately disadvantaged, it was suggested. "I suspect a driving force behind WFH will be childcare", said one. "Inevitably, women will be attracted to WFH. If that’s the case, there could well be a discrimination case down the line if firms are penalising lifestyles evidentially preferred by a specific gender". "Disgraceful approach - of course this will disproportionately affect women / working parents", agreed another person.

Many agreed that Stephenson Harwood's partners were "having their cake and eating it", because "Working from home generates MORE money for the firm - less travel time, more billed time, more likely that associates log on in the evening and at weekends with the home/office distinction removed". Homeworkers "should get a raise rather than a pay cut", claimed one.

"Do they think their lawyers are idiots - more profit for the equity, no reduction in targets", agreed an SH employee. "It is purely bully boy tactics. Time to move on"  and "get paid fairly for the work I do", they fumed.

However, a source claimed that Stephenson Harwood was locked into an expensive lease in London which meant its savings from homeworkers freeing up space in the office might be negligible. The firm "put itself in a nightmare situation" after management "foolishly" signed up to an extension to 2030 of its circa £12m/year Finsbury Circus premises before the pandemic, they said, and now believe "they need the building 'buzzing' for business", or "they need drastic savings elsewhere". A spokesperson for Stephenson Harwood said, "Extending the lease as we did – at a time when we had the opportunity to either look elsewhere, or commit to staying until at least 2030 – allowed us to negotiate very favourable terms, making significant savings over the lifetime of the lease from rent free periods and other incentives".

The 20% cut was "clearly just a deterrent", said a critic. Fine, said another person, because, "This career is more than just logging in and doing your 8 billable hours from your basement".

Others rather liked the sound of Stephenson Harwood's proposal. With rail season ticket savings, said one, "the real deal is more like taking a 5-10% pay cut...and I reckon a lot of people would consider that as a good deal".  

"The catch", they added, "is that you are immediately signalling you’re not really a team player, you will miss out on client meetings and events, and won’t be seen as a full member of the team. So progression and future pay rises are likely to be limited but that might not be a problem for some".  

"Not sure I completely agree with the naysayers", agreed an envious onlooker. "Most firms tend to be pushing for 3 days a week mandatory. The option to work wherever you want in the UK for a 20% cut however could be pretty attractive...Pretty sure if I asked my boss if I could move to the Scilly Isles and never come into the office again he would be a bit reticent".

"20% haircut to never see colleagues again seems ok to me", said another. Factor in no commute, "possibly no need for private schools and the fact that top rate tax is close to 50% now and net disposable could well go up as a result".

"I would be much better off under this type of option (not offered by my firm)", said a jealous lawyer. "I could lose the nanny in favour of nursery, and remove commuting and office costs. I would be more relaxed and quids in!" 

However, it "clearly" can’t work for any firm with regional offices, pointed out a commenter. "Associate A is employed by regional office on regional salary (and has to go into office to get that), Associate B is employed by London and gets London minus 20%, and gets to work from home. Associate B inevitably still taking home more. There must be all kinds of employment claims in there".

One person wanted the policy abandoned for their own selfish reasons: "Get back to your swanky offices you big cry babies, and stop pushing up the house prices in the nice country and coastal areas for local provincial types. Want London salaries? Work in London". 

Hundreds of people upvoted comments which said the remote working mindset was here to stay, and that firms should not penalise them. "There will be a divide between progressive firms that allow staff to choose and those that insist on presenteeism like Stephenson Rees Mogg", said one reader. "I’m struck by the outpouring of anger against SH here", said another reader after digesting the comments and seeing the story go viral. "It shows that something fundamental has changed as a result of C19. The message is simple. We love WFH. However, the Masters of the Universe who run our firms don’t. A clash of wills is now happening. I hope the pompous, outmoded dinosaurs lose. Let’s see Law Firms recognise that the world has changed". 

Some managers, though, think Stephenson Harwood has got it just right. "The SH MP/CEO has just emailed all staff giving himself a pat on the back for the media attention this has received", said a source. 

*Staff attending the office on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays are known colloquially as 'TWaTs', for example. Readers are invited to name other combinations in the comments.

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Comments

Anonymous 06 May 22 09:15

Good distraction from meagre partner numbers. 
 

Remember the good old days when the partners deciding who to make up, got made up?

Anon 06 May 22 09:17

And there’s one of the key factors of this issue: SH is “locked into an expensive lease in London”.

How may other firms are in the same position and are scrabbling around trying to ensure that staff come back to the office at all costs in order to make the decision-makers who approved the lease feel better about the decision.

Anonymous 06 May 22 09:27

Knights signed up to a number of expensive leases for new offices during the pandemic. There has already been a Brent style team talk regarding being in all the time. This has been ignored given more pressing issues (the share price) - expect it to be raised again shortly. 

Untruths 06 May 22 09:48

The whole premise is based on the false idea that WFH = less work done. If you worry your employees are lazy and you don't trust them, time for some serious reflection. 

Anonymous 06 May 22 10:06

Other firms are seeing the value in less travel time for their staff as a positive point. In fact during the pandemic, many staff working from home often put in longer hours with some finding it difficult to switch off. 
The SH staff who have been trusted to do their job remotely for some time haven't become 20% less valuable. SH management want to be in control, or seen to be in control.
If there is a need to mentor trainees or juniors that is a different point. Or if there are quality issues, it's understandable that those staff should come to the office to be supervised.
But for other staff who have proved they can do the job remotely and who do not need  constant supervision, let them get on with their job wherever they want.
 

#bored 06 May 22 10:07

The market is alive with job opportunities - people should calm down and stop frothing with indignant outrage - just get another job if the idea of seeing colleagues 3/7 days is so outrageous and outmoded.

The policy was announced in a cack-handed manner - but is very much in-line with most other firms except with more flexibility. 

Enjoy your Friday afternoons with the tots! 

Anonymous 06 May 22 10:10

@09:48 - No it isn't.

The 20% reduction is certainly not to represent a reduction in billable hours by those working from home. The reduction is an acknowledgement that those working from home have a greatly reduced cost base and as such, even after the 20% reduction, remote workers still have an increased net income at the end of month.

 

Stephenson Harwood is a business trying to maximise profits. The 20% reduction makes sense for both employees and employers.

 

Lets just be open about the facts. Getting your knickers in a twist that you're getting to live in Yorkshire while not getting 100% of your London salary is ridiculous - it only would be if you're forced to take the cut.

 

Clearly many lawyers are utterly inept business people and lack commercial awareness.

Anonymous 06 May 22 10:12

One person wanted the policy abandoned for their own selfish reasons: "Get back to your swanky offices you big cry babies, and stop pushing up the house prices in the nice country and coastal areas for local provincial types. Want London salaries? Work in London".

On the contrary, there's nothing selfish about it - my coastal property has doubled in value largely as a result of such practices, (thank you Londoners). What's concerning is the destruction of local communities and impact on those who are priced out of the market as a result of the practice. 

 

What's all the fuss about 06 May 22 10:25

Any individual that worked at SH before the pandemic would have been expected to be in the office 5 days a week for their salary.

Those that were employed during the pandemic were employed with the choice of being fully remote on 20% less pay or hybrid at full pay.

All this does is offer the former the same opportunity as the latter. 

For those saying this discriminates against x, y and z. Those groups presumably had to commute 5 days a week before the pandemic (if they were existing staff) and are therefore still in a better position now by being offered hybrid working on the same salary.

I for one would be more than happy accept 80% of a city lawyers salary to not commute as I would still earn more than a regional salary and I would save the driving commute to the regional office.

Self Absorbed Egotist 06 May 22 10:28

Boo hoo, I am so amazing and misunderstood. All of my work is incredible and I am sure that I am just so productive from home in my jim jams. And who could possibly know better than me?

Why oh why does my employer, a service business, not appreciate my invaluable contribution?

In 2022 they stubbornly continue to insist on my attendance at the office, and give me 6 out of 10 for performance in my annual appraisal. Are they blind to my unique genius?

Why oh why does nobody listen to me when I tell them how marvellous I am?!

LP 06 May 22 10:49

I still cannot understand why the intense negativity around working from the office. It isn’t purely about productivity, but a sense of belonging and team work which then contributes to a firm’s culture. 

I am supportive of SH’s policy - it requires some serious leadership and courage to put forward such policy and the SH management has my respect.

I assume most, if not all, of the naysayers don’t work in a large UK or US firms as they seem to be completely out of touch.
 

LP

Just not self-important enough 06 May 22 11:04

Fairly obvious you should not get the London weighting if you are not coming into London - even the civil service do this. London salaries are higher because your minimum costs are higher (so your minimum acceptable salary is higher) it's not because you're objectively better than anyone else.

If people keep pushing for 100% home working entitlement and 100% pay how long before firms realise that they can get E&W qualified lawyers based in other countries to work 100% remotely but for 50% of the pay, or just start doing what publishers do already and have armies of remote freelance staff paid ad-hoc on a per-incident basis.

Anonymous 06 May 22 11:26

Isn't the point here - look at the poll and the comments - that a lot of people in law don't really want to work in person with colleagues, or even clients. They just want to work on transactions/advice and spend as much time as possible with friends and family. i.e. a LOD lawyer. It's literally their pitch: https://www.lodlaw.com/your-lod-career/legal-professionals/

And a minority want to be in the office, network with colleagues and clients, and develop a business and best practice together, as well as working on transactions/advice - i.e. feed the "LOD" lawyers. I'm not saying one side is better here - both are vital, but I can see why businesses might pay a premium for the latter.

If true, this raises real questions about the future business model of mainstream law firms. Are we mostly trying to fit square pegs into round holes? And if so, how and at what stage of development can we better accommodate the apparent "LOD" majority?

Anonymous 06 May 22 11:31

Workers who attend the office only on a Tuesday are wont to depart with a cheery 'See you next Tuesday', and are therefore ****s.

Anonymous 06 May 22 11:37

To get profit, take costs away from revenue.  Part of costs are office overheads, as well as salary and insurance etc.  If you WFH you are still carrying the office overhead unless the firm can downsize quickly through a lease event which are often in 5 to 10 year cycles.  So you will need to be much more productive or the profit drops.  Salary is the one part of costs that can be changed reasonably quickly.   Whether the decision is right, wrong, fair or unfair is not the point, it is whether this makes good business sense taking in all the elements of a successful firm.  IF SH people leave in droves due to this, it will have been a dud decision.

Possibly unpopular opinion 06 May 22 12:03

Everyone always says that one of the best ways for a junior lawyer to learn is through learning by osmosis. How is that going to happen if there is no one in the office? It's a bit drastic to cut 20% from someone's salary, yes, but it's a good incentive to keep people going to the office and allowing lawyers to learn and become well-rounded imo.

papercuts 06 May 22 12:41

Wonder how much their commercial property clients leaned on them?  You got to lead by example here - get those f*****s back into the habit of travelling miles to switch on their laptops, you know it makes sense 

Anonymous 06 May 22 12:56

@ 11.26.

Your post (especially the comment about square pegs and round holes) reminds me of the old debates we used to have about “finders, minders and grinders”. 

These days there’s not much need for the grinders to be in the office all or most of the time. But an immediate 20% pay cut for them sends a clear message that they are valued at least 20% less than their colleagues whose skills may lie in managing client relations, marketing generally or just massaging the managing partner’s ego.

The truth I suppose is that some “old school” managers still seem to think fee earners should be able to do find, grind and mind. And do it all from the office. Just like in the olden days they are so familiar with. 

 

 

Anonymous 06 May 22 13:10

The divide between what business services staff are paid compared to high-earning lawyers is a big issue here.

A cost of living crisis is looming and non-fee earning side who are used to working remotely and have their pay cut by 20% will have to weigh that up with the costs of the commute and associated costs with coming into London. Some of them are bound to look for more flexible options elsewhere. 

Legal Press 06 May 22 13:39

Noted.  Avoid Stephenson Harwood like the plague. 

Just refuse to sign the decrease in salary; force them to manage you out for a year and cash in as you do f**k all work.  That's what I'd do, and as a journo, I'm an absolute expert in doing f**k all work :P

Ickle Smurf 06 May 22 15:01

I don't really understand the issue.  If you want to wfh, you can work wherever you want in the country for 20% less than the office based salary.  For that, you don't need to pay travel, buy your coffee and lunch out, get up early to commute, pay for longer child care, you can live in a cheaper, nicer area.  Personally, if I did this, I would be out earning my peers locally by about 20% - even with the discounted salary, and have all the benefits I've mentioned.  No-one is being compelled to take this up, and in fact I doubt many would want to, but I don't understand why it's seen  as almost the end of the world. 

Anonymous 06 May 22 15:14

I'm just going to throw out a counterargument (and just to be clear, I don't work at SH, and know people who have worked there and disliked it, so I'm not trying to defend them dogmatically). 

 

Most people I know, across industries, are now being required to be in the office a certain number of days per week. This is the same at SH - their employees are being asked to be in the office 3 days a week. 

 

At most companies, if you don't do your allotted number of days in the office, you're in breach of company policy and could in theory be the subject of disciplinary proceedings.

 

And that's the end of the story at most places - you have no option.

 

At SH, they are giving you an option. 3 days a week for 100%, or 0 days a week for 80%. To me, this is a good thing - they've given their staff choice. You can debate the value proposition of that choice - is it a fair deal that full time wfh is worth 20% of pay, and evidently most people think that it is a bad deal.

 

However, the bottom line seems to me to be that there is a choice here, whereas at most other places you don't get a choice. And that should surely be commended?

It's absolute toffee, the 20% reduction doesn't apply to all remote workers, just ones that have given years and years of their lives to SH.

It's known for a fact we've had a joiner in the financial systems team, that is fully remote but certainly not paid 20% under the market rate. This firm picks and chooses who its likes and only they will succeed.

Business Services kept the firm going throughout the pandemic working 100% remotely... now they face the cost of living crisis and cant afford to take a 20% pay cut for a fair work life balance.

Shame on you SH not for the policy, but for the lies you tell.

The only real flexibility is the flexibility to bend your own rules to suit you. 

 

Anonymous 06 May 22 16:26

Totally agree with [email protected]

Business Services who have been working remotely, and slogged away during the pandemic on a fraction of the pay of the firm’s lawyers, are being absolutely screwed by SH management with this pay cut. 
Crap timing by SH just as the cost of living crisis bites with inflation and energy prices. 

Its well known at SH the CEO wants people back in the office to create a buzz. A buzz cannot be created virtually. A buzz is an in person noise, that must be physically created by buzzing our buzzy bottoms onto seats!

If some of the comments above are correct then we’re wasting too much time here. As much as we love ROF, we need to be updating our CVs or practicing buzzing.

On Wednesday the Chief HRO was talking at a forum about the good days we have and bad days we have and how we need to have more good days then bad… I’m assuming this has been a buzzing bad week for SH. 

Did I mention Buzz Buzz!!

 

Anonymous 06 May 22 19:05

It's just the most bizarre decision on their part and a PR disaster. Lots of entrepreneur law firms are rubbing their hands in glee though, looking forward to a raft of applications from disaffected fee-earners.

Selfish lawyer 06 May 22 20:11

On a vaguely serious note, I do think that we overlook the benefit to others of being in the office. It may not be the most terrible idea in the world to provide a financial incentive to be in the office most of the time. 

Another observation is that the disparity between City and Regional pay is now so big that 20% doesn’t really bridge it….
 

 

Anonymous 06 May 22 20:17

"That's what I'd do, and as a journo, I'm an absolute expert in doing f**k all work"

Which is why you earn a low wage in an industry that is oversupplied with labour and also being rapidly hollowed out by online services and 'citizen journalists' willing to do your "work" for free.

People willing to embrace and replicate your financially unsustainable position would do well to heed your advice.

Don't all rush at once now...

Anon 07 May 22 07:42

I find it so bizarre when firms say they want people back in the office in order to maintain the ‘culture’ or ‘buzz’.  

Most modern law firm offices are identikit open-plan corporate hellscapes devoid of any warmth or charm, with rows of worker drones typing or doing Teams calls from their desks or in ‘pods’.  No amount of PR bullshit from up on high is going to change that.

Anon 07 May 22 09:12

I’m just not getting the economic reasoning for the 20% cut if the output is still 100% or even greater (if more productive due to flexibility, no commute, logging on later in the evening, and generally being happier).

If a person is paid for their intellectual capital and time and they have 100% (or greater) output then I don’t understand why should they receive less pay purely as a consequence of where they perform that work? Why does an employee”s cost base form part of the remuneration calculation? Fair enough to remove, say, a season ticket loan for someone not commuting in but I’m struggling to understand the reasoning for a cut if the output is the same (and it is particularly illogical if the employee is billing by the hour.

Anonymous 07 May 22 09:59

@Anon 09:12

Perhaps they will come to realise this and readjust things for those working remotely. If a remote worker is a top performer (not just in terms of billable hours but also in terms of supervision, developing junior team members and business development), does it still make sense to pay them less simply because they are based primarily at home? It is hard to reconcile this with a meritocratic system, which I understand their new career policy aims to implement. 

Anon 07 May 22 10:09

Are SH’s bonuses calculated using salaries? If so, that seems harsh for remote workers as their bonuses will also be discounted by 20%.

Dracz 07 May 22 14:42

Meanwhile, hands up if you remember Jaws' girlfriend 'Dolly' in the film Moonraker wearing braces...

Anonymous 07 May 22 14:57

@Possibly unpopular opinion 06 May 22 12:03

Everyone always says that one of the best ways for a junior lawyer to learn is through learning by osmosis. How is that going to happen if there is no one in the office?

That issue was overcome two years ago. We use Microsoft Teams with shared documents, and find that kind of osmosis is far more productive than chatting next to the water cooler. It is also far safer than sitting too close to colleagues, intruding on their body space, while working on a physical paper document. It worked so well here that I find it suspicious when people tell me they cannot get it to work.

Scottish lawyer 07 May 22 16:10

20% might be welcome for all the WILLIEs out there (Work In London; Live in Edinburgh)?

Scottish lawyer 07 May 22 16:11

20% might be welcome for all the WILLIEs out there (Work In London; Live in Edinburgh)?

Anonymous 07 May 22 16:58

"finders minders and grinders" is the perfect phrase to describe the roles legal careers. Of course people can move between them but it's very obvious early on in careers who will be able to do each.

Grinders - stay at home and bill hours. 20% less but get to live somewhere 30-50% cheaper - winner.

Minders - mix and match but probably end up junior partners so will be in a few days a week. 

Finders - the ones who end up at equity - will be working where they think work can be developed - pubs, offices, golf courses etc etc. 

I think a lot of lawyers, particularly junior ones, just see billing hours as their jobs. That is right for the grinders and some minders but not the others.

Its going to be very very difficult to be a finder at home. Not impossible. 

Anonymous 07 May 22 18:44

@Anonymous 16:58 - you never know, the home workers might actually leave the house occasionally! Critical to remember that we are talking about a default position here.

Anonymous 08 May 22 05:28

“There is also absolutely no suggestion that this set-up will affect my career progression”

Then you are f***ing naive.

Anon 08 May 22 09:00

I love the fact that "in their own bubble" lawyers think that business service staff are on £60k, I wish. True we chose are own path, but we don't get the annual step increase for PQE, the double digit increases and bonuses on top.

I also think why would firms not look regionally in future if no one is coming to the office. Instant massive savings on London salaries.

Of course all these savings will be passed onto the clients in the form of lower charge out rates. So it's a win win for the clients, yes? 

Anonymous 08 May 22 10:19

@05:28 So did everyone lose two years’ career progression during the pandemic? Wake up.

buzzkill 09 May 22 12:00

This is completely unfair, I do not understand why are people upset about it?

If you want to WFH full time, why should you be getting paid a London salary rather than a regional salary?

Obviously if you are working remotely full time from a mansion in the Yorkshire countryside that you bought for £250k, you should be paid a lower salary than someone who lives in a London shoebox they are renting for £2k per month. 

Anonymous 09 May 22 12:36

"So did everyone lose two years’ career progression during the pandemic?"

During the period of time in which everyone was obliged to work from home, including all of one's peers against whom one's career progression might be measured in relative terms, and in which there was no relative disadvantage to being housebound? 

I can't see any issues whatsoever with using that period of time as a benchmark. 

Anon 09 May 22 13:20

Anon 9.00 - it's worse than that, the suggestion was that the business services staff were on £60k net so gross salary more like £100k!

Anon 09 May 22 16:02

Still no explanation of where they get 20% from. Yes, it’s still higher comparatively to regional firms, but all regions aren’t equal in terms of living costs and this applies even if people live in London but don’t want to come in 3 days a week? So it isn’t to do with where you live, it’s just to do with trying to incentivise people to come back to the office at the end of the day (or, more to the point, disincentivise people to not stay at home)

Big Mig 10 May 22 11:04

If this were attempted inhouse, people would simply work a 4 day week for the reduced 5 day pay.

But as per above, this is just an attempt to look flexible and innovative while actually discouraging people from taking it up.

Anonymous 10 May 22 14:13

"If this were attempted inhouse, people would simply work a 4 day week for the reduced 5 day pay."

Yes.

In-housers are renowned for being the masters of their own destiny and at liberty to unilaterally vary their hours and working conditions at will.

That is exactly what would happen and nobody would get fired.

SH Insider 11 May 22 23:14

20% pay cut leaves SH pretty uncompetitive when you consider an NQ is on 90k, 3PQE 104k, 4PQE 109k etc. 

UsernD 12 May 22 11:30

"very favourable terms", I don't believe this statement is quite as accurate as it was two years ago. Or maybe they'd like to buy some Blockbuster Video shares on equally favourable terms 

The Dark Knight 12 May 22 22:27

Anonymous 06 May 22 09:27:

“Knights signed up to a number of expensive leases for new offices during the pandemic. There has already been a Brent style team talk regarding being in all the time. This has been ignored given more pressing issues (the share price) - expect it to be raised again shortly”

You don’t know the half of it!

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